If Indians had to pick a grand narrative for themselves, it would probably be the love for family values. It's how we like to project ourselves to the world — we might be completely wacky in our head, we might be stingy to the point of creativity, we might pee on the roads, and defecate in public, but we are all right in the end, because ABCDEFGHI...JKLM.. we love our family.
Drishyam is the third-hand version of a loved Malayalam film; post the Tamil version, they finally decided to hand it over to Bollywood. Ajay Devgn, the benevolent patriarch (previously Georgekutty, played by Mohanlal), has a loving family of four, and they all live in a breathtaking Portuguese-style bungalow in the middle of Pondolim, Goa. Apart from his kohl-and-sexy-cotton-saris wearing wife (Shriya Saran), who is all but infantilised by him, he has two actual children, one teenager and a child who could both be role models for Adarsh Balak. He runs a cable business for the town, and is not above indulging his junta by showing them a few blue films at night on the cable; Sunny Leone's name is innocently dropped in a passing conversation. A mean "kaala, khatmal jaisa" sub-inspector is the only flaw in his otherwise idyllic family life, as he takes exception to Vijay Salgaonkar (Devgn) helping out an elderly couple who this sub-inspecter is harassing. Salgaonkar is uneducated and a "chouthi fail" (he failed class four) but the film clearly underscores the fact that he is not your average village idiot. We are told several times in the course of the movie how Salgaonkar has picked up all his knowledge from the films he watches on TV all day (what did you call the idiot box again?).
What could have been a beautiful, slow setting of scene, reminiscent of "fried fish and chilled beer" languorous Goa, turns out to be underwhelming, right from the first shot of the river to the awkward, tedious conversations between cast members, both staged and shot in uninspiring ways. (There are a lot of discomforting close-ups into Devgn's scrubbed face, as though the camera were short-sighted.) The film changes tone half-way into the film, as the family falls into a dilemma, of commiting an accidental murder, and instead of going to the police, coming up with an elaborate plan to hide their tracks.
Enter Tabu and Rajat Kapoor, the fancy power couple, the Inspector General and businessman, whose son is the proverbial body in the drawing room. A cat-and-mouse sequence follows, and while the plot picks up from time to time, it is mostly the audience predicting a step further, and the police (metaphorically) arriving late on the scene. The Hitchcockian technique of building suspense by keeping the audience at a higher level in the hierarchy of knowledge completely bombs here, and fizzles out the tension. In fact, the only time the film thrills is when it has twists and surprises, most notably in the last 20 minutes.
Devgn is stone-faced throughout the film, the children are sadly forgettable and exist only as flat characters, and while Saran looks breathtaking, any gravitas in her acting sadly remains dormant. Even Tabu is uninspired, her reactions are only half cared for; it is difficult to look at her fiery presence in Haider reduced thus to a half-etched character who often resorts to stereotypes of a modern urban wife, and at other times a b**ch boss who abuses her position to fill in the details that the script has left. All said and done, there is a major difference between how the first half and the second half of the movie has emerged. While the first is lackadaisical and largely forgettable, the second makes you sit up from your stupor a reasonable amount of times, for Drishyam to pass as a mediocre movie.
Ajay Devgn is no Bhaijaan, neither does he have the screen presence of Akshay Kumar (for better or worse). As he struggles to be the lovable hero who will do anything for the family, it is difficult to imagine the whole town rallying around this sulky man who is neither quiet enough to pass off as the poignant silent protagonist, nor interesting enough to matter. Drishyam we saw, we got, but we didn't care for the film beyond a point.